This week, I exited a family WhatsApp group after listening to a particularly inaccurate, agitated and rambling rant – falsely attributed to the steel baron Laxmi Mittal (debunked last year) – about how Hindus have been “humiliated, subjugated and massacred”; how Narendra Modi is relentlessly criticised because he stands up for Hindus; absurd arguments about how secularism isn’t for India (“who the f*** cares if you are a secular state or not, Britain is not a secular state, it is a developed country”); and how we were ruled by “marauders” for 1,000 years.
I used to point out inaccuracies, flag fake news and gently say what I believed about the rule of law, the Constitution and – what I have always considered – India’s compassionate, accommodative way of life. It made no difference to some family bigots. My efforts appear so quaint, naive and archaic today.
Angry Hindus are everywhere. I am clearly not one. If I am angry, it is at my fellow Hindus for becoming what they have: insecure, hateful and hypocritical, willing to eagerly receive the slow drip of anti-Muslim poison. That slow drip is becoming a flood, unhindered even by the life-and-death crisis upon us, indeed even encouraged by it.
It is difficult, these days, to keep up with and feel outrage against the verbal and physical attacks, boycotts and other forms of prejudice to which Indian Muslims are subject. The overwhelming feeling is despair and disquiet.
At the urging of its ruling party, with the acquiescence of its Supreme Court – which is failing to act as a bulwark against majoritarianism – and the primacy accorded by Hindus to rabble-rousing media, India is eagerly embracing its Islamophobia.
The feeling among most Muslims and those of us who have not joined the tide of Islamophobia washing over Hindu India is that worse may be coming when the coronavirus pandemic abates. As the gleeful demonisation of Muslims because of the boost given to the virus after an ill-advised global meet of the orthodox Tablighi Jamaat sect in Delhi indicates, no opportunity is lost, however grim the circumstances.
In the daily pandemic briefings in Delhi, an otherwise-evasive government spokesman spared no details about the Tablighis, even though the World Health Organisation’s Emergency Programme director disapproved of India’s religious profiling.
“Since the Tablighi Jamat story broke, Health & Home ministry has spent more time blaming Muslims than addressing kit shortages, migrant crisis, & free treatment,” tweeted health reporter Vidya Krishnan, who faces a barrage of criticism and abuse from fellow Hindus whenever she points out government shortcomings.
It does not matter that even the Uttar Pradesh police – not exactly a force known for its adherence to non-discriminatory justice – this week debunked a stream of fake news that used the Tabhlighi outbreak to mock, abuse and urge a boycott of Muslims. It does not matter that so many Tabhlighis tested positive because so many were tested: India simply isn’t testing enough, and once it does, the Tabhlighi outbreak will likely fade to inconsequence. It does not matter what the facts are because the Tabhlighi issue is only the latest that Hindu India and Modi’s government are happy to seize upon to push Muslims into second-class citizenship.
“All people are not equal,” the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Subramanian Swamy told Vice News in a documentary released this week. “They [Muslims] are not in an equal category.” That Muslims are not, or should not be, equals is not an uncommon sentiment. Swamy may have been kept out of Modi’s government, but the thoughts of a man once representing the Hindu fringe are now fairly mainstream. His views – similar beliefs leak out almost every day – accurately represent his party’s approach to India’s 200 million Muslims: that they are too large to be a minority; they have oppressed us for hundreds of years; they should have gone to Pakistan in 1947; they must be shown their place.
Ever since it came to power in 2014, Modi’s government has revealed an anti-Muslim bias, stated expressly and repeatedly by ministers and other members of the ruling party and expressed through discriminatory legislation and strategic silences whenever Muslims are attacked. India’s anti-Muslim bias is encouraged, empowered and given life by fake news and febrile imagination, both of which are available in ample measure in Hindu society.
That is why there has been no widespread disapproval over lynchings related to theft or slaughter –
imagined or real – of cows, the criminalisation of triple talaq, the legally tenuous revocation of article 370 in Kashmir, the withholding of full internet even with a pandemic raging, the clearance to a Ram temple in Ayodhya through dubious means, and police brutalities and legal action against Muslims protesting a law aimed at creating the second-class citizenship that Swamy indicates may be on its way. The coronavirus is just another staging point on the route to the marginalization of Muslim India.
Samar Halarnkar is the editor of Article-14.com, a project that tracks misuse of the law and the hope it offers.